Keith Emerson, who made Pittsburgh debut in 1971, dead at 71
March 11, 2016 5:53 PM
Associated Press fiel photo
Musician Keith Emerson, 1999
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rock bands with a keyboard player as the focal point are often at a disadvantage, at least visually, but that was never a problem with Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Keith Emerson was a whirlwind and a virtuoso at his bank of keyboards with Moog synthesizer. He died Thursday at 71 of a gunshot wound to the head, according to police in Santa Monica, Calif., reported Billboard. His death is being investigated as a suicide.
The British musician made his first noise with The Nice in 1967, before joining forces in 1970 with Greg Lake of King Crimson and powerful drummer Carl Palmer to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer, one of the pioneering groups of the British progressive rock scene.
ELP debuted in 1970 with “Emerson, Lake and Palmer,” most remembered for the Lake guitar ballad “Lucky Man,” which came with a striking Emerson Moog solo.
The band made its Pittsburgh debut on April 27, 1971, opening for Procol Harum at the Stanley Theater, and after releasing second album “Tarkus” that summer, returned for its first show at the Civic Arena, on a bill with the J. Geils Band. Mr. Emerson didn’t just play his Hammond organ, he jumped on it, shook it and stabbed the keys with knives.
The August 1974 show at the arena gave fans a taste of “Brain Salad Surgery,” which featured the three-part sci-fi epic “Karn Evil 9,” with its call of “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends, come inside, come inside.”
The 1977 tour, originally planned for Three Rivers Stadium but moved to the Civic Arena, featured orchestral backup and was timed to the release of “Works, Vol. 1,” which led with Emerson’s 18-minute “Piano Concerto, No. 1.”
ELP split in 1979, and the next time we saw them, at the Syria Mosque in 1986, Palmer was out and they were Emerson, Lake and Powell, with Rainbow and Jeff Beck drummer Cozy Powell.
ELP reunited in 1991 and made its last Pittsburgh appearances at the Palumbo Center in 1993 and opening for Jethro Tull at Riverplex in 1996.
The band did a final reunion in 2010. Along with his band work, Emerson released a half-dozen solo album and scored such films as “Inferno,” “Nighthawks” and “Godzilla: The Final Wars.”
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my good friend and brother-in-music, Keith Emerson," Palmer wrote in a statement. "Keith was a gentle soul whose love for music and passion for his performance as a keyboard player will remain unmatched for many years to come. He was a pioneer and an innovator whose musical genius touched all of us in the worlds of rock, classical and jazz. I will always remember his warm smile, good sense of humor, compelling showmanship and dedication to his musical craft. I am very lucky to have known him and to have made the music we did together."
“At home, he either listened to either classical or jazz. We never listened to rock,” his longtime partner Mari Kawaguchi told The Associated Press. “He hated being called rock star or prog-rock star...he wanted to be known as composerHe never succumbed to being commercially successful. He had no interest. He always said: ‘I’m not a rock star. I’ve never been a rock star. All I want is to play music.‘”
She said he was about to embark on a short tour in Japan starting in April with his band.
Among the Pittsburgh musicians to pay tribute to him today was jazz pianist Scott Anderson, who posted on Facebook: “R.I.P. Keith Emerson, you were a great inspiration. A magnificent player and writer, this is truly a loss…”
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg